Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Letters from a Serial Killer: A Writer’s Correspondence with the Columbus Stocking Strangler

 

Carlton Michael Gary

In September 2010, I decided to mail a copy of the story I wrote on this website about the Columbus Stocking Strangler to Carlton Michael Gary who was then, and still is, on Georgia’s Death Row for three of the Columbus Stocking Strangler murders and is a suspect in several more. I did this in large part because I had previously sent an essay entitled “The Manson Myth” to Charles Manson and he wrote back to me. Manson and I wrote letters back and forth, and later, he called me collect and we talked on the phone. I wrote an article about our relationship called “My Friendship with Charles Manson.

When I sent my work to Gary, I included a one-sentence letter: “Dear Mr. Gary, I wrote this article for the online Crime Library on your case and thought you might be interested in it.”

I received a letter from Gary in October 2010. He began, “Dear Ms. Noe, Reception of the envelope with some articles from you, which you apparently put a lot of time and effort into was had by me. Your note mentions an online ‘Crime Library,’ which may already have at least some of what you sent, and an article you wrote for them.” He appears to have not quite understood that the article I wrote for Crime Library was the same article that I had mailed him.

Gary indicated that although he received the article, he did not closely read it. He stated, “I’m not that interested in the sensationalism, having found that the vast majority of the information surprises even me, and embellishes the truth quite immensely.”

Click to read the first letter.

He also indicated uncertainty about me, writing, “I assume you’re some type of student, writer/aspiring writer, crime fan, or something like that.”

Gary has always claimed to be innocent of murder and comments in this letter suggested he is sticking to that claim. He wrote, “Behind the scenes there is so very much occurring, which the media and others are unaware of, but good stories just don’t sell that well.” The letter made a passing reference to the “Syracuse, N. Y. façade.” It is not clear exactly what he refers to. However,Gary is suspected in the December 1976 rape murder of a 59-year-old woman and in the January 1977 brutal rape of a 55-year-old Syracuse woman. DNA has linked him to the 1975 rape and murder of Marion Fisher, 40, in Syracuse.

The letter briefly discussed Gary’s religious faith. “I praise the Lord for keeping and sustaining me throughout this madness,” he wrote.

Click to read the second letter.

He ended the letter in a friendly manner, stating, “Many blessings to you and yours.”

After signing off, he wrote a P. S. informing me that I had used a former prisoner number in my initial letter to him and helpfully giving me his current one.

Notable qualities about the letter included Gary’s polite tone and excellent handwriting. The last quality was especially striking. Gary prints his characters but in a manner similar to the best sort of cursive. I showed the letter to someone who remarked in amazement, “This handwriting is so pretty I find it hard to believe it was written by a man, much less a brutal rapist and murderer.” When I showed it to others, they also commented on how good the handwriting it is and another person said it was the sort of pretty handwriting expected from females.

In early December 2010 approached, I mailed Gary a letter in which I observed “it must be difficult to celebrate Christmas in prison.” In the envelope in which I sent that letter, I enclosed a poem I had written about Christmas.

He mailed back a letter stating that he had received the poem and adding, “I thank you for the kindness.”

Gary commented, “As far as it being difficult to celebrate Christmas in here, I really don’t let it bother me. I enjoy the festive things that are going on.”

He wrote about activities he performs to pass the time. He draws, writes poetry, knits, crochets and does weave work.

The death row inmate thanked me a second time for the poem and ended the brief letter, “To you and yours, I extend the many joys of the holiday season, and you know to be alert and careful in all that you may do.”

Readers may see the admonishment to “be alert and careful” as sarcastic or ironic. They may even fear a veiled threat in that caution.

However, it is more likely that Gary is a psychopath and, as such, was simply being polite and is unable to realize how odd such words may sound coming from him.

An article about psychopaths by Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz published in

Scientific American Mind pointed out that this sort of “tin ear” for emotional dissonance is common among people with this disorder. They recount how a man imprisoned for a brutal crime of kidnapping, repeated rape and attempted murder matter-of-factly discussed committing this atrocity. Soon after, he described “the secret to a good relationship” as “the three C’s – caring, communication and compassion.”  Kiehl and Buckholtz believe the psychopathic man was simply unable to know “how bizarre this self-help platitude sounded after his awful confession.”

Psychopaths lack normal emotions but often parrot emotional platitudes to mimic normal people. Thus, Gary ends his letter to an acquaintance like myself on a caring note, oblivious to how jarring it strikes a normal reader.

The letters I received from Gary reinforce the view I already had of him from the research I had previously done: he is an intelligent, talented individual who is emotionally warped. His considerable potential has been wasted through his own actions.

However, we must never forget that the most grievous waste is that of the lives of the innocent women he victimized.

Read the letters on the next page.

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